Simple Shifts (Part 4)
“Whether we want to admit it or not, the WAY we do church often becomes more important than WHY we do church. We choose tradition over mission.”
In part one of this series, we spent time talking about what doesn’t need to change in our ministries. Then in part two, we acknowledged that while God is constant, he is also a God of new things—so we explored some potential shifts related to our mission, mission field, and vision that we may need to consider in this season. In part three, we moved on to our structure, asking: How do we structure our staff and ministry teams to be effective for the new normal?
SHIFTS TO OUR MINISTRY STRATEGIES
In this final episode of our Simple Shifts series, Amy and I are discussing shifts related to our strategies, including our Sunday services, sermons, and multi-generational ministries. I hope this conversation is equally practical and convicting as we dive into:
- Optimizing your Sunday service as a reach strategy
- 3 tips for making your sermons more actionable
- Becoming a multi-generational church
- Next steps for your simple shifts
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. If we’re honest, many churches weren’t winning in some areas of their mission before the pandemic. And now the call for significant changes in ministry just feels overwhelming. But rather than dramatic changes, we’re finding that simple shifts in the way we do ministry are more effective for helping churches grow in health. But simple isn’t always easy. In the final episode of this series, Tony and Amy address the simple shifts any church can make when it comes to reaching new people, teaching strategies, and connecting with the next generation. Before today’s episode, though, if you’re new to the podcast, head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast, and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, each week you’ll get resources to go along with that week’s episode, including our leader conversation guide, as well as bonus resources and access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.
Well, today is the final episode in our “Simple Shift” series. And before we dive into the simple shifts that we’re gonna cover today, Tony, will you remind us why we’re in this series and why we’re in it now?
Yeah, so, just to go back in time and really, I would encourage you to go back and listen into the previous episodes, but we started off the series talking about what does not need to change, even given all the disruptions we’re experiencing over these last several years. But let’s be honest, we weren’t winning in some areas of our mission even before the pandemic. And because of that, you know, some simple shifts are really appropriate and needed for our churches in this season. However, this series is not called big shifts. It’s not called monumental changes. It’s not called significant pivots. The call for significant change right now that I’m hearing from so many different voices, it’s almost overwhelming for me. And I think it can be very demoralizing and unnecessary for the churches that we’re engaging with as we’re trying to encourage churches to really be focused on the mission that God’s called us to. So I’m not convinced that it’s necessary for us to become completely different churches on this side of the pandemic. And maybe more importantly, I’m not convinced it’s important for you to become a completely different leader or pastor on this side of the pandemic. However, I mean the whole purpose of this series really is to focus on the simple shifts that we need to be making on this side of COVID. And as we try to fulfill the mission God’s called us to.
Yeah, we covered a lot of ground these last few weeks. I’ve enjoyed these topics that we’ve been talking about. But Tony, we do have a few more simple shifts that we’d like to cover today. So where would you like to begin?
Yeah, so we really haven’t talked about our Sunday worship services in this series. So let’s start there. As an example, you may be thinking we’re still not seeing people come back to our Sunday services since the pandemic began, but if we’re being honest, attendance at our services, they were in decline even before COVID. So the answer to this challenge is going to look a little different for different churches, depending on how they view the role of the Sunday worship experience, Amy. And as we’ve talked about this previously, some churches view Sunday services as both part of their reach strategy and their discipleship strategies, while other churches really view Sunday services as only for believers and therefore only part of their discipleship strategy. And so I want to address both types of churches in a moment, but this benchmark, it applies to both types of churches, and it begins with this simple principle: new people have to attend your church if you want your attendance to grow. Yeah. With insights like that, you might be wondering, so why do so many thousands of pastors listen to this guy on a regular basis? I wonder the same thing often, in case you’re wondering, but kind of the foundation of that principle is this learning. What we have found is that for churches to experience attendance growth, at a minimum, you need the same number of new people, or think about first time guests, attending your Sunday services at least once in the next 12 months, and that needs to be equal to your current average attendance. So let me make this simple. If your current average attendance is a thousand people, you need 1000 1st time guests or new people to attend your Sunday services sometime in the next 12 months in order for you to experience attendance growth. And you might be thinking, well, how could that be the case when we already have a certain number of people that are a part of our church? Why do we need new people in order to experience growth? And the reason why is we have found through the years you’ll lose about 15% of folks in your congregation every year for a variety of different reasons, could be people moving out of town, new jobs, whatever the case might be. So there’s naturally a 15% attrition rate in churches. And in reverse, we also know for new people that are showing up for the very first time, if you do everything with excellence regarding your first time experience for guests, you will see based on the data we’ve collected, about 20% of those first time guests eventually connecting with and sticking with your churches. So here’s simple shift number seven, if you’re keeping up in the series, rather than assuming new people will just show up for church, we need to be more intentional about encouraging new people to attend our Sunday services. The simple shift here is this focus on new people. And I do, I think this is a shift for a lot of churches. We’ve been so focused on getting people to come back to our Sunday services. The simple shift involves focusing on how do we engage new people? Now with that, let me go back to those two types of churches. First, if Sundays at your church are designed only for believers and attendance is declining, or it’s not recovering as fast as you would’ve hoped, I think there are two basic questions you need to be asking here. Again, Amy, this is for the church that sees their weekends as part of the discipleship strategy, not the reach strategy and Sundays are for believers and not folks that are still considering the claims of Christ. So the first question you need to ask yourself, if this is your church, is why don’t believers at our church see Sunday mornings as part of their spiritual formation journey to the point that they are valuing the Sunday teaching and the worship experience so much that it’s encouraging not only believers to show up, but they’re also inviting other believers to come and experience this on Sunday morning? And then the second question that you need to be asking is why is our reach strategy not making new disciples of Jesus so that we have more new believers showing up for Sunday services? I think these are really, if you’re not seeing Sunday service attendance growth for your Sunday services, these are really the only two questions that you can be asking.
I can’t think of any others.
Yeah. So in other words, if your Sunday services are designed for believers and you currently have 1000 Christ followers attending your Sunday services, your reach strategy, that strategy outside of your Sunday services that you are using to produce new and to make new disciples of Jesus, you need to be reaching a thousand new believers that will eventually visit your services at some point over the next 12 months.
Are you saying that the reach strategy at that church would have to somehow engage people outside the faith, present the gospel, help 1000 people say yes to Jesus and then convince all those people to attend a Sunday service for the first time in order for a church to experience attendance growth. That that seems like a big ask.
Yes. I agree. I agree.
I guess that’s your point.
Yeah. And that’s the challenge for churches that don’t view Sunday services as part of both their discipleship and reach strategies. If Sunday mornings are only for believers, either it puts a lot of onus on your reach strategy, whatever that is, to make new disciples of Jesus and then get them to your Sunday services. Or you have to try to convince believers at other churches to attend your church on Sunday mornings. And I’m assuming listeners aren’t interested in just sheep swapping, but those really are the only two solutions for getting people to show up on Sunday morning that aren’t already a part of your church.
I’m just still impressed that you could say sheep swapping so clearly.
Yeah. Thank you. I had to rehearse that one, Amy. I mean, this is one of the reasons why many churches though, that we work with that are in this position. They view their Sunday services as both part of their discipleship and their reach strategies. In other words, they design everything, including their biblical teaching, with both believers and people who are still considering the claims for Christ in mind. They’re assuming some people will show up for the first time on Sunday morning who are still spiritually curious, but they haven’t yet crossed the line of faith. In other words, the Sunday services, they really, in these instances, serve a dual purpose. They’re part of the reach strategy to make new disciples of Jesus. And they’re part of the spiritual formation strategy to grow existing disciples of Jesus. So if that’s your church, for those churches that view Sundays as both part of their reach strategy and their discipleship strategy, I do think there are several strategies for you to consider to increase the number of first time guests. In fact, these are some ideas we work even on this side of the pandemic. So let me give you again. I wanna try to get as practical as possible here, Amy. The first is you need to actually begin to expect guests to show up on Sunday morning. And so if you’re expecting guests to show up, you’re paying more attention to your hospitality on Sunday morning, you’re paying more attention to guest services. You’re intentional in the welcome in your services to, you know, just acknowledge the guests that are in the worship experience. You’re creating connections after the services for new people. And let me just say this, even if there aren’t initially any guests that join you on a Sunday, your church will start to catch this sense that inviting new people is encouraged. And that’s why our church is so prepared for their friends to show up on Sunday morning. So it’s kind of like a chicken and egg question, I guess. Do we wait to prepare for guests when guests show up or do we start to prepare for guests before they show up? And the churches that are winning in this area, they’re preparing for guests even though they may not be there yet, but they’re anticipating that that’s gonna happen.
Yeah. I would use the phrase. “They act as if.” They act as if new people will be there.
A second practical step you can take here is to encourage people to invite their friends. And here I just, I’ve loved sitting under Andy Stanley’s teaching over these last several years. And hearing him specifically talk about the three “nots”. He says, be sensitive when you’re in conversation with people and they say, I’m not in church or things are not going well, or I’m not prepared for such and such in my life. When you hear any of those three “nots”, that should be an open invitation for you to say, Hey, come sit with me then. Come to church with me and actually invite them to come with you to your church. And again, this sounds very simple. People should just know how to express an invitation to a friend, but I actually think we need a little bit of coaching for people in our churches on how to be sensitive to these conversations that they’re having with friends in their lives, and then encouraging them to invite their friends to come to church with them. A third practical next step that you can be considering to try to increase new people showing up on Sunday morning is to create invite-able services. So really, we need to go back to this key question. Why aren’t people inviting their friends to come to Sunday morning services? I mean, what would have to change about our Sunday services for them to become more invite-able and Amy, this is right in your wheelhouse, and you used to do this all the time, so any specifics that come to mind for you when it comes to creating invite-able services?
Well, to me, an invite-able service is one where the excellence and the relevance of it are predictable. In other words, I don’t have to worry that the service will have like this cringe factor or I’ll have a surprise factor. I know that whatever the message is or what the songs are that that doesn’t have to be predictable, but I know if my friend shows up, they’re gonna have an amazing experience sitting under that music and under that teaching, and that teaching’s going to apply to their everyday life. I also know my friend won’t be called out, right? They can just come and just experience the service, you know, really having it be a come and see experience.
That’s good. Another practical next step is to consider creating intentional Sundays and series to encourage people to invite their friends. And maybe using this as kind of a benchmark, what would it look like for you to have at least one intentional let’s call it in air quotes, “invite a friend Sunday” every quarter. Now please don’t call it, “invite a friend Sunday,” but to create some sort of experience on Sunday mornings during one of your normal services, so that it’s an easy invite for people to invite their friends, to either a specific Sunday service or maybe a new series. Now let me give you just one good example that I’ve seen recently. And I think they’ve been doing this for a number of years, but life.church has, they call it “30-second theology” that they do every year. And it’s the Sunday after the Super Bowl game. And in this Sunday service, they encourage everyone to watch all the commercials during the super bowl game, which that’s the fun part of the super bowl anyways, right Amy?
Well since the Vikings are never in it.
Yeah, that’s right. And then, they encourage folks to come on Sunday morning to explore the links between those commercials and our theology. Now they don’t do this every Sunday. They don’t do this type of thing, but once a year, they leverage something significant in our culture that everyone’s talking about to try to draw new people to the church that might not normally come. In other words, they’re creating an easy invite for people to invite their friends. So that’s just one example of maybe something, and again, I just suggest maybe once a quarter, we try to create that type of easy invite to encourage folks to invite their friends to church. Then finally, determine how your Sunday services fit into your broader reach strategy. So how do our Sunday services fit into our content strategy? Into our digital ministry strategy? How do they fit into our personal evangelism strategy that we’re hoping people will engage? In other words, Sunday services can’t be the only part of our reach strategy as well. We need a comprehensive reach strategy for our churches to be able to connect new people to the church and hopefully to the faith. Amy, before we move to the next shift, this again, this used to be your world. So anything else related to weekend services that you wanna highlight?
Yeah. I go back to that phrase that we talked about a few minutes ago. That “act as if”, just going back to when we’re ready every weekend, our church always knows I can invite someone absolutely any weekend, but you asked more so, and I think I’d highlight, when I secret shop weekend services, Tony, I am always amazed that churches forget to speak to the person that’s new. I just don’t get it, to give them a guide. You know, like what to expect, especially the worship part. You know, they often say something like, “Welcome church. Stand up.” And there’s no explanation of what we’re doing, why we’re standing up, how long it’s gonna be. And then it goes for like 20 minutes. And, Tiffany, you know, Tiffany, our listening audience has heard her once or twice, but we had a great conversation about this the other day. And you know, some churches do a good job of welcoming new people. And then they’ll even say, you know, the words are on the side screen, feel free to join along. And Tiffany goes, why don’t we just say, just listen to the words or let these words, you know, and explain what worship is, why we’re singing and what all those things mean. Cause people don’t sing anywhere else with a bunch of people. They just don’t, they don’t know the drill…
They need some handles. I can go on and on about this, but that is one thing. If you’re expecting new people, then talk to new people, and that not only welcomes them or puts them at ease, but it tells everyone at your church, we’re expecting new people to be here. We talk to ’em every week.
All right. All right. Let’s jump to the next simple shift. Tony, what do you wanna cover?
Yeah. I’m not gonna spend a lot of time on this one, because in the upcoming series, we’re gonna focus on this specific topic, and I’m excited because it’s actually the first time we’ve given a lot of focus to teaching and preaching. So with that in mind, you might be thinking we’ve designed our ministry strategy to encourage most people to consume Biblical teaching rather than equipping people to engage a kingdom mission. And again, there’s gonna be an entire series on this topic that will begin in the coming weeks. And I’ve invited Brian Tome, the senior pastor of Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Derwin Gray from Transformation Church, Andy Stanley from North Point will be with us for that series. And they’re gonna help us kind of think through some of the shifts that we can be making in our teaching and preaching to engage people with the gospel message, but you’re going to have to come back for those episodes. So for this week, let me start with this simple shift that all of us need to consider. So this is simple shift number eight: If we want our congregation to engage God’s word and then put that biblical wisdom into action, we need to finish every message with one clear next step. And this is a simple shift, but I know that it’s a lot harder than it sounds. It’s easier to tell people this is what the Bible says. It’s much, much harder to help people put themselves into God’s story and then help them discover what God wants them to do next as they engage his mission. So this is what the Bible says involves teaching that delivers information. Let me help you discover God’s given mission. That type of teaching leads to transformation. So the key though, is that we need to begin with the end in mind. So what does the biblical passage teach us? And then based on this passage, what’s the next step that God is asking me to take? And then how do I craft a message from this passage that helps my congregation consider the next step that they need to take as well? And then after the message is over, what if anything, could we do to encourage as many people as possible to take that step? So, if you want to embrace this simple shift, here are some practical recommendations that you might wanna consider? First, again, listen and remain open-minded to the next episodes that we’re going to have on the podcast that will be talking specifically about our approach to teaching and preaching. But secondly, commit to investing more time in your message. Often I’m just, I’m hearing from pastors and they’re thinking I don’t have any more time in my schedule. How can I spend more time on my message? But biblical teaching is one of the four roles that senior pastors can’t delegate to anyone else. If you’re not going to invest the time, no one else will own this. So you might need to just ask what can you give away to another staff person, another staff leader, or another volunteer so that you’ll have more time to focus on study, crafting your message, delivering your message and making sure that the messages help people put their faith into action. And let me just say this. I have to hire staff when I’m trying to give stuff away. Actually I have to pay people good money to do things in order to get stuff off my plate. My goodness, pastors, yes, you may have to hire some people, but many of you have hundreds, thousands of people in your church that are very gifted and could be supporting you in carrying out the mission that God’s called your church to. And so you have a leg up on me. You can actually engage key lay leaders, volunteers, to help you engage your mission. Here’s another practical step. Build a team to help you do this. I mean, you don’t have to prepare, study, craft, deliver messages on your own. You can bring other people in to support you in all of these steps. And this last one may sound a little bit, it’s gonna be a stretch for some of you, but I would encourage you to jump onto YouTube and search Ted talks and actually watch some of the Ted talks that people are presenting. And what’s just fascinating to me, many of those talks, these presenters are not professional communicators. However, they craft these talks to both inspire and challenge people to take action. And I think we can learn some things about how they’re crafting their messages and then delivering those to their audiences. And, Amy, did I mention this is gonna be a whole new podcast series coming in the next couple weeks. So come back and listen to those episodes.
Tony, I can’t tell you how much I endorse this point you’re making. When my husband, Jason, and I were in our twenties, three little kids in tow, our marriage was a bit of a mess, but we knew faith had to be a part of our life. So we gave church a try again. The church that God led us to was committed to what you just talked about. And as a result, God changed the trajectory of our lives. And I’m so thankful to our pastor, who was committed to his teaching gift, that the church saw the weekend as a place to help people like me understand how God’s word applied to my life. And again, it changed the trajectory of five lives: my husband and I, and our three kids. So if our listeners hear nothing else, I hope that point sticks.
Oh, that’s great. I love that.
So that leaves us with one more simple shift to consider Tony, where do you wanna finish today?
Yeah. And hearing you tell that story about your young family. Again, just it’s even more pressing that I think we consider this last simple shift, and I’ve intentionally held on to this one for the end, because I wanted it to be the final thought for you and your team to consider, because you may be thinking we were effectively engaging the previous generation, but these ministry strategies that we’re using today, they’re not working to reach the next generation of adults. And here’s the challenge. You can’t program your way to success when it comes to reaching the next generation. And let me explain what I mean by that. We see many churches trying to create separate ministry programs and services to reach the next generation of young adults. So they’ll hire a young adults pastor, they’ll create separate services for the young adults. They’ll create separate ministry programs for young adults. They’ll give the program a clever name. They’re essentially trying to create a new church within the church to reach people current church isn’t reaching. So why do churches try to do this? They’re probably thinking if we create a separate program to reach young adults, then we don’t have to change our existing ministry strategies for older adults. In other words, our worship services don’t have to change, our adult ministries, they don’t have to change. Our teaching doesn’t have to change. Our groups, our Sunday school classes, they won’t have to change. Our women’s and men’s ministries, they won’t have to change, and on and on. So here’s the last simple shift I want to talk about. We need to become a church that’s designed to reach and minister to young adults, or let me say it this way. We need to become a multi-generational church that’s focused on reaching the next generation, our kids and our grandkids. I mean, who wouldn’t wanna be a part of that kind of church? And be honest, what parent or grandparent wouldn’t sacrifice their personal preferences in order to be part of a church that’s reaching their kids and grandkids? I mean, my goodness, if they’re unwilling to do that, do you really want them at your church? I mean, if they’re not willing to sacrifice in that way, so let me get really practical here. This shift involves considerations like this: What would have to change so that all generations are in the same style of worship services rather than being segregated by generations in different styles of worship services?
Can we just end there, Tony? Can we just end there? That’s the best question.
Yeah, that is a big one. And you know what’s fascinating? We’ve talked about this in the past, Amy. The data shows that the more worship styles your church has, the more likely you are to experience declining attendance.
And I mentioned last week the overstaffing, this drives overstaffing as well, separating the generations.
Here’s another question to consider as it relates to this: What would to change so that all generations are in the same classes and the same home groups rather than being segregated by generations in different classes and home groups? Here’s another question: What would have to change so that our entire team, not just the young adults pastor, is focused on reaching young adults who are outside the faith and outside the church? Again, we wanna be a church that’s trying to reach young adults rather than a program that’s trying to reach young adults. Here’s another question: What would have to change so that our teaching is engaging to all generations rather than just the needs of our older generations? And finally, what would have to change so that we prioritize our financial investments in ministry environments and programming for our kids and grandkids, and even prioritize those financial investments over the ministry environments and programming for older adults? Again, Amy, this involves a mindset shift that will produce a strategic shift. In other words, rather than creating separate programs for separate generations, we need to decide to become a multi-generational church that’s focused on reaching the next generations, and Amy, I get it. This is maybe the least simple of all the simple shifts, but even before the pandemic, this was the big challenge that I think was most impacting the overall health of churches. And if the data coming from multiple sources is accurate, we, as churches, are losing the next generations. So are we going to just let that happen or are we willing to begin to make some changes so that the church can reach our kids and grandkids for Jesus?
I loved your opening quote in this section, Tony. Just think if churches with multiple styles just asked this question to a multi-generational group: What would have to change so that all generations are in the same style worship services? It just begins the conversation from a different place versus don’t touch mine. Don’t touch my service. My service. It’s really posing how can we do this? It was just so well said, I thought I’d just say it again.
Well, thank you.
Hey, it’s been a fun series of conversations, the “Simple Shifts.” Tony, any final thoughts you’d like to share before we wrap up this series?
Well, we’ve talked about nine simple shifts over the last few weeks, and our intention wasn’t that you would run after all nine of these. That would be overwhelming. We’re hoping that just one or two of these really resonated with you and your team. In fact, just pick one, one of the nine. Begin there. I’m convinced that embracing any one of these simple shifts could potentially have a significant impact on your church’s mission. And finally, let me finish where we started this series. These are all important shifts that we need to be considering, but are they really significant shifts? You’ve heard me say this many, many times. In almost all instances, I think it comes down to this: whether we want to admit it or not, the way we do church becomes more important than why we do church or to state it a different way. We choose tradition over mission. And the crazy thing is this: why we do church often points us back to that list of things that we do not need to change about our ministry. In fact, it would be wrong to let any of those things change. However, we must hold the way we do church lightly and with open hands. So think of it this way. The why establishes our convictions, the way reinforces our preferences. And I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to sacrifice my preferences for my convictions any day of the week. And honestly, when I look at the simple shifts that churches need to consider in this new normal, more often than not, it involves giving up preferences to realize the potential kingdom impact that is rooted in my convictions. It’s my calling. It’s my mission. And I would argue it’s our mission. And with that, let me give you a simple next step to consider. Sit down with your ministry team and engage this important discussion. Bring your Bibles, bring the knowledge and understanding that God is revealing to you in this new normal, make a list that answers these two simple questions. What does not need to change? And then second, what must change in order for us to fulfill the mission God’s given us? What are those simple shifts that we need to embrace? And don’t overthink this. I’m convinced, you know the answers to these questions. God has already made this very evident to you. You just may not have had the courage to verbalize it, but when you say it out loud, don’t be surprised when the rest of your team agrees with what you’re saying. It’s time for us to have this courageous conversation. These are the simple shifts we must consider to fulfill the mission God has called us to engage. So one last thing, don’t be surprised that as you engage this important conversation, God does something in you, too. Don’t be surprised if God uses it to remind you of the original calling that he placed on your life, because God did something in you. He gave you a mission. And even though the world around us is constantly changing and seems to be filled with a lot of uncertainty, my challenge is this. Don’t give up. Don’t walk away from the mission that God’s called you to. God has called you for such a time as this.
Well, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast. Here at The Unstuck Group, our goal is to help pastors grow healthy churches by guiding them to align vision, strategy, team, and action. In everything we do, our priority is to help churches help people meet and follow Jesus. And if there’s a way we can serve you and your church, please reach out to us today at theunstuckgroup.com. If you like what you heard on the podcast today, and it’s been helpful to you in some way, we’d love your help in getting the content out farther. And you can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, telling someone else about the podcast and giving us a review. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.